2.15. Questions

There are many kinds of questions in Lojban: full explanations appear in Section 2.1 and in various other chapters throughout the book. In this chapter, we will introduce three kinds: sumti questions, selbri questions, and yes/no questions.

The cmavo ma is used to create a sumti question: it indicates that the speaker wishes to know the sumti which should be placed at the location of the ma to make the bridi true. It can be translated as Who? or What? in most cases, but also serves for When?, Where?, and Why? when used in sumti places that express time, location, or cause. For example:

Example 2.63. 

ma

tavla

do

mi

Who?

talks

to-you

about-me.

Who is talking to you about me?


The listener can reply by simply stating a sumti:

Example 2.64. 

la .djan.

John (is talking to you about me).


Like ko, ma can occur in any position where a sumti is allowed, not just in the first position:

Example 2.65. 

do

[cu]

tavla

ma

You

-

talk

to what/whom?


A ma can also appear in multiple sumti positions in one sentence, in effect asking several questions at once.

Example 2.66. 

ma

[cu]

tavla

ma

What/Who

-

talks

to what/whom?


The two separate ma positions ask two separate questions, and can therefore be answered with different values in each sumti place.

The cmavo mo is the selbri analogue of ma. It asks the respondent to provide a selbri that would be a true relation if inserted in place of the mo:

Example 2.67. 

do

[cu]

mo

You

-

are-what/do-what?


A mo may be used anywhere a brivla or other selbri might. Keep this in mind for later examples. Unfortunately, by itself, mo is a very non-specific question. The response to the question in Example 2.67 could be:

Example 2.68. 

mi

[cu]

melbi

I am beautiful.


or:

Example 2.69. 

mi

[cu]

tavla

I talk.


Clearly, mo requires some cooperation between the speaker and the respondent to ensure that the right question is being answered. If context doesn't make the question specific enough, the speaker must ask the question more specifically using a more complex construction such as a tanru (see Section 2.1).

It is perfectly permissible for the respondent to fill in other unspecified places in responding to a mo question. Thus, the respondent in Example 2.69 could have also specified an audience, a topic, and/or a language in the response.

Finally, we must consider questions that can be answered Yes or No, such as

Example 2.70. 

Are you talking to me?


Like all yes-or-no questions in English, Example 2.70 may be reformulated as

Example 2.71. 

Is it true that you are talking to me?


In Lojban we have a word that asks precisely that question in precisely the same way. The cmavo xu, when placed in front of a bridi, asks whether that bridi is true as stated. So

Example 2.72. 

xu

do

tavla

mi

Is-it-true-that

you

are-talking

to-me?


is the Lojban translation of Example 2.70.

The answer Yes may be given by simply restating the bridi without the xu question word. Lojban has a shorthand for doing this with the word go'i, mentioned in Section 2.1. Instead of a negative answer, the bridi may be restated in such a way as to make it true. If this can be done by substituting sumti, it may be done with go'i as well. For example:

Example 2.73. 

xu

do

kanro

Are you healthy?


can be answered with

Example 2.74. 

mi

kanro

I am healthy.


or

Example 2.75. 

go'i

I am healthy.


(Note that do to the questioner is mi to the respondent.)

or

Example 2.76. 

lo tavla

cu

kanro

The talker is healthy.


or

Example 2.77. 

lo tavla

cu

go'i

The talker is healthy.


A general negative answer may be given by na go'i. na may be placed before any selbri (but after the cu). It is equivalent to stating It is not true that ... before the bridi. It does not imply that anything else is true or untrue, only that that specific bridi is not true. More details on negative statements are available in Chapter 2.